Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Health Vegetarians"

I have no problem with “moral vegetarians.” If some people don’t believe in killing animals for food, I respect their choice, as long as they leave me alone with my meat. It’s the people who claim to be vegetarians for health reasons who irk me. First of all, it’s naive to assume that a vegetarian diet is in esse, or even in posse, more healthful than an omnivorous one, and most of those folks, unless they’re vegans, are probably eating more than enough milk fat to make up for all the animal fats they’re avoiding. Besides, as often as not these so-called vegetarians, it turns out, will tell you they eat fish. I’ve even met people who claimed to be vegetarians who ate poultry as well as fish. Fish and chickens may not be smart, but they’re not vegetables. Sure most fish is, in principle, better for you than most meat, but the chemicals and pollution have evened out the playing field somewhat. And forget about poultry. I’m no expert, but I think poultry fat is at least as dangerous as the fat from “red meat,” not to mention the hormones and antibiotics and salmonella potential. Then there’s my “vegetarian” friend who makes an exception for bacon, because she likes it too much to give it up. I do have a modicum of respect for that position.

I'm sure there are also people who claim to be "moral vegetarians" with an asterisk, who allow themselves to eat seafood because they consider fish and shellfish lower, less intelligent forms of life than mammals. The Nazis made similar value judgments.

And don't get me started on Jews who don't keep kosher but refuse to eat pork, as if that's the one thing the Alleged Deity won't forgive. Jesus.

Related to the health vegetarians are the “is it healthy?” and the “is it fattening?” types, people who aren’t vegetarians per se, but who obsess so much about these questions that they can’t enjoy a single meal with carefree abandon. I know several people who maintain a sensible diet at home and rarely eat out, but when they do they don’t order what they really want, they order something they think is “healthy” (even if they should be thinking it’s “healthful”). It’s a perversely puritanical and wrongheaded approach. One meal won’t kill you, damn it. Enjoy something for a change.

I was once in a restaurant and I overheard a woman asking the waiter of every dish, “Is it very fattening? Do you know how many calories?” What waiter knows how many calories are in anything? This woman was hardly fat anyway. I felt like telling her to go home and make some fucking steamed vegetables if she was so concerned about how fattening the food in a restaurant was. But I kept my mouth shut.

Of course it’s important to be health-conscious when it comes to diet, but it’s equally important to the mental health to live life with gusto. Maintain a balance; don’t be a fundamentalist. It’s certainly a good idea to eat more like the Mediterraneans or the Japanese, but if you want to eat like a Hungarian every once in a while, go for it.

I know a woman who is not a vegetarian, but she is almost one by default, since she is unable to eat the meat of any animal she considers cute or any animal she considers ugly. I can’t think of too many animals in-between. I will confess that there have been two types of meat I could not bring myself to eat. The first was monkey. It was on a menu in a restaurant in Phuket, Thailand. I thought seriously about it. I went back and forth. I pride myself on culinary adventurousness, but ultimately I just couldn’t do primate. So I did the cowardly thing and ordered khanom jeen nam yaa, the local fish curry noodle soup. The other meat I couldn't eat was dog. This was in Vietnam, where there are special dog restaurants. All those restaurants have signs with a picture of the big, wolfish food dogs that they serve. The dogs are bred for food, and I suspect the restaurants may be segregated this way so they can be better regulated, to make sure they don't serve strays or pets. For me, though, the association with domesticated canines was too strong, and I couldn't bring myself to enter one of those places. Still, I haven't ruled dog out altogether. I haven't yet been to Korea or the Phillipines, so I may have other chances. I don't think I'll ever get over my irrational fear of monkey meat, however.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Have you seen the guys that eat salads, talk about the mineral content of certain foods and how this amino acid is better for you, pop 15 or 20 "vitamins" a day and then go ahead and eat plates of cakes and cookies at every opportunity? Or the people who think that boiling a lobster is bad but eat raw clams and oysters. Does grinding teeth and a bath in stomach acids hurt less?

10:38 AM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

I'm pretty sure bivalves are stupider than crustaceans.

By the way, I've heard the humane way to boil crabs & lobsters is to drop them in a pot of cold water, then turn the heat on. They'll eventually pass out when the heat gets to a certain level and die peacefully in their sleep, as we all would like to.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

// , as we all would like to.
I for one don't care to die in a pot of warm water....

In any case I make my dividing line that I won't eat carnivores. So no dog, cat, lion, bald eagle or people (I suppose unless they're lifetime vegetarians, moral or otherwise )

When it comest to fish I'm not quite sure how that works, so I ignore it, and eat them all. Not at once... that would be piggish, but I'm working my way through them at a leisurly pace.

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stopped eating cows, chickens and pigs and so on in 1972. I've always resisted the apellation "vegeterian", just as I've resisted selection of a reason for eschewing the chewing of the above (and more). If I wanted bacon with my grapefruit juice tomorrow, you can be sure I'd have some. I just haven't for a few decades. I find Okra unappealing too, but I'm not certain we need a special word for a person who doesn't care for Okra, or salads with candied nuts.

Happily, as time passes, fewer and fewer people seem as obsessed with coming to grips with what I eat and don't eat. But I still routinely get people interrupting themselves when describing food or offering food, and saying something like "OH...but you can't eat that...sorry!". To which I always want to reply "I can eat whatever I please, thanks very much - now please continue with what you were saying".

I'm off to shovel the driveway...
...and btw - if they are offering chicken sashimi at your neighborhood bistro tonight, (this seems a notable fadlett right now in some quarters) I won't gasp and ask "OH...are you a vegeterian? of you decide to pass.

David Beckett

11:42 AM  

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